Blind People’s Vision Is Being Restored. Regenerative medicine gives Retinitis Pigmentosa patients a new lease on life.

Consider what it’s like to have retinitis pigmentosa. Imagine losing your eyesight for forty years, gradually losing peripheral vision, and finally becoming blind when photoreceptor cells in the eyes die. 

RP is a relatively uncommon condition. Although current figures are unavailable, it is widely assumed that the disease affects around one out of every 4,000 persons in the United States and across the globe. This was the life of a 58-year-old guy before genetically modified viruses were injected into his eyes and restored usable vision. 

The technique detailed in a Nature Medicine article relies on optogenetics to restore eyesight lost for two decades (due to defective photoreceptors not being able to deliver visual information from the eyes to the brain) to be able to see small objects such as a notebook and a staple box with the help of light-stimulating goggles. He could recognize the notebook 92% of the time, but just 36% of the time could he touch the smaller staple box, and he could even see the white lines of a pedestrian crossing.

Non-invasive electroencephalography (EEG) scans

Using non-invasive electroencephalography (EEG) scans, a group of international scientists determined that activity in his brain’s visual cortex altered depending on whether or not an object was there, confirming its link to the retina. “Remarkable” was used to characterize the findings. During a recent conference call revealing the team’s discoveries, Many Paulsen, a University of Basel professor and researcher, said, “I believe a new discipline is being created.”

Scientists have been using optogenetic therapy to restore eyesight for over a decade to treat individuals with degenerative eye illnesses, including retinitis pigmentosa. It blends optics and genetics to enable researchers to use visible light to control individual neurons in vitro. Light-sensing molecules are first introduced to brain cells, subsequently triggered by light pulses from fiber-optic threads. The chemical converts light into an electrical signal, which causes the neuron to activate. 

Medical Debt Can Put You in Bankruptcy

Financial hardship brought on by a medical condition can bankrupt you. According to recent research, more than half of bankruptcy cases were caused by illness and medical expenses.

According to researcher David U. Himmelstein, MD, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, “illness frequently results in financial catastrophe through loss of income, as well as exorbitant medical bills.” “Paid sick leave and disability insurance are essential for the financial survival of a major sickness.”

Himmelstein writes in the journal Health Affairs that his analysis presents the first in-depth information on bankruptcy relating to illness. He says that prior research primarily looked at court records, where medical expenses might be covered up by credit card or mortgage debt. Debtors’ reluctance to talk about their BKHQ`s bankruptcy has also made it difficult to study this pervasive issue. Only 50% of people who declare bankruptcy in surveys do so, according to Himmelstein.

Researchers may now activate individual neurons on command, possibly changing the subject’s behavior and reactions. 

The technique is based on the movement of algal proteins in response to light sources. Scientists used these genes to produce the light-sensitive protein ChrimsonR in the retina’s remaining functioning ganglion cells as part of the treatment.

“It’s thrilling.” It’s great to see it functioning and to hear from patients,” says David Birch, a retinal degeneration specialist at the Retina Foundation of the Southwest in Dallas. Birch has worked on various optogenetic medicines but was not involved in this research.

The University of Basel-UPMC team employed GenSight Biologics technology to apply the critical ideas of optogenetics to the retina as part of their PIONEER 1/2a project. Both biological and technological components were used in the two-pronged strategy. The researchers selected the patient’s retinal ganglion cells for a genetic treatment that would make them photoactivatable, which solved the RP condition. 

Rods and cones usually are photosensitive, but since RP had destroyed the patient’s rods and cones, This requires altering the ganglia cells (which convey the photoreceptor cells’ electrical charges). The researchers did this by implanting a gene from a light-sensing green algae species into one patient’s eyes. As a result, the gene encoding ChrimsonR, a photoactivatable protein, is produced.

Dr. Tristan Cardona, Distinguished Professor and Chairman of the Department of Ophthalmology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, co-founder of Gensight Biologics, and co-lead investigator for the PIONEER trial, told Fontaine, “These proteins are quite unusual.” “In the late 1990s and early 2000s, they were found. These proteins are found in algae, and they capture light and activate an electrical reaction that allows the algae to move towards or away from it. Because it’s a single protein, it’s a rapid response.”

After a few months, the ganglions had generated enough ChrimsonR to be valid. The technical component came into play since ChrimsonR is most receptive to light with a wavelength of 590 nm (amber). Gunsight (created by Dr. Cardona and his colleagues) produced a patented pair of goggles that capture picture analyzable embedded high intensity 590nm wave light straight into the patients’ eyes, which is significantly brighter than ambient illumination typically provides. 

“We created a bioinspired camera that detects any change in light sensitivity at every single pixel,” Cardona stated. “These cameras can detect minimal changes, and they can work in both low and high light environments.” “We’re working pixel by pixel and processing the picture in real-time.”

This is the first example of partial functional recovery following optogenetic treatment in a neurodegenerative condition. However, the present PIONEER trial is a very early stage in developing this kind of treatment. More good clinical trial outcomes are required before optogenetics can become a conventional therapy for certain types of blindness. 

For the time being, Dr. Cardona and his colleagues are recruiting more participants for training, testing higher virus doses, and replacing their goggles with thin glasses that are more comfortable and provide more information to the retina. Optogenetic treatment is a less invasive alternative to the Orion Visual Cortical Prosthesis System, which involves probes to implant a control unit chip in your skull. According to Cardona and Fontaine, the treatment is not a cure for blindness. “All we can say for the time being is that there is one patient with a functional difference,” Fontaine explains. “It’s a watershed moment on the way to even greater results,” Cardona says.

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